Sue the Screenwriter || How to Make ’em Laff: Free-Falling into Funny!

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free-fallingBY SUZANNE KELMAN
May 4, 201

I actually didn’t set out to write comedy; I kind of fell into it one day as I was writing something serious and I’ve been trying to find my way out of the canyon of craziness ever since. What I’ve learned since traversing the humor terrain is that writing funny stuff is no laughing matter.

Here are some tips if you are thinking of falling into funny yourself.

FirstDon’t read books on writing funny stuff. What I’ve noticed is people who write comedy don’t tend to write books about writing comedy very well. It’s like trying to explain a joke after the moment has passed; it kind of gets there but the spontaneity is lost along the way. There are many books out there that claim to help people write hilarious stuff but, I have to tell you, the ones I’ve read, have been as entertaining as re-mortgaging a house. So. trust your gut rather than another writer’s process, even mine.

SecondDon’t force it. Forcing is like forcing someone to love you. Before you know it you’re boiling their bunny. The more obsessive you become over the comedy, the harder it becomes to work. This is not good. I once met a very straight-laced, old school teacher-type who looked me dead in the eye over her half-rimmed glasses as she handed me her manuscript and said in one long monotone, “I can write funny.” After reading it, I hadn’t the heart to tell her SHE was funny; her saying it that way WAS funny but, alas, her writing wasn’t.

You see, she approached it in a very rigid and controlled way. She read a bunch of books, commanded all her words to sit up straight in their chairs and line up quietly in very grammatically correct order. Then she slaved over the perfectly crafted punchline, but it fell flat.

Comedy for me isn’t like that. It’s just not rigid; it’s more like a form of free-falling. I jump in naked. I run with the wild bulls of the adjectives. I dance with my hair on fire. My first drafts are a mess.

It’s just a raucous can-can with the dancing red squiggly lines and me.

I just have fun with words. We hang out together like two old friends laughing at the bar. I type something funny and then I answer myself in a kind of schizophrenic double act. So try free-falling, and don’t edit that first draft.

ThirdI do is look for visual extremes to take along on my word journey, such as “run naked,” or “hair on fire.” The funnier you can make the visual for the reader, the more fun they’re going to have reading it. You can always pull back if your editors rolls their grammatical eyes. You can tell they are doing that when they send you back little bubbles in the “Track-Change” function accompanied by the tut-tut-tut of the three-question-mark disapproval—“???” This is editor talk for: “What the heck was that?

Lastly(because I can’t think of any more tips), I allow my mind to go on a constant party or Mardi Gras. Enjoy everything around me, especially characters that I meet. I’m always eavesdropping other people’s conversations too. Firstly, because it’s fun but mostly because I often hear nuggets that will take my mind into a million comical directions. Like the result of someone shouting “FIRE!” at a clown convention. Did I tell you I like writing in extreme visuals?

So, there you are—my process—read from the back of a postage stamp. If you want to make them laugh, I encourage you to find your own voice in it. Because, at the end of the day, you should enjoy it; after all, it’s comedy. And if you meet the tut-tut-tut of the bubble of doom, at least you had a blast of a time while you were free-falling.

Suzanne Kelman is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright and also the author of the international bestselling book “The Rejected WritersBook Club” Her accolades include The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences – Nicholl Fellowship Finalist, Best Comedy Feature Script – L.A. International Film Festival and Gold Award Winner – California Film Awards. 

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